The Duke of Ripley's Invalid Chair

At a recent appearance with historical romance author Caroline Linden, she and others who’d read A Duke in Shining Armor asked about Ripley’s invalid chair.

As the illustration and photo illustrate, it was a real thing, an early version of a wheelchair. It uses, as described elsewhere, “hand-cranks, wheels, gears and an adjustable back and footrest.”

A few years ago, when I first came upon it, I wrote a short post for Two Nerdy History Girls. More recently, when I found myself with my hero and heroine in the library of Camberley Place (inspired by Sutton Place), there was the chair, rolling to the front of my mind.

As the description notes, "The curious evolutions which may thus easily be performed...render it the means of very considerable amusement." Deciding to use it this way was easy. Understanding how the thing worked was another matter entirely. As you will note when you read the instructions, early 19th C prose is not the clearest and most concise form of writing. Then, there’s my brain, which is confounded by mechanics, as my instructor and fellow students in high school physics class—not to mention my husband—would be happy to tell you.

But few obstacles are so daunting that I won’t try to surmount them for the entertainment and enlightenment of my readers. I studied those confounding instructions until I understood how Ripley would work the chair.

You’ll notice that the commentary mentions “amusement,” a function I had no trouble imagining. The more bizarre suggestions I leave you to contemplate, noting only that in 1811, when Merlin’s Mechanical Chair appeared in Ackermann’s Repository, England was at war with France, and Napoleon was a major threat.

My story, however, is set in 1833, long after Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo. In A Duke in Shining Armor, Merlin’s Mechanical Chair plays its kinder role of providing both locomotion and entertainment.

This curious machine, of which a correct perspective view is given in the annexed engraving, is the contrivance of the late ingenious and well-known Merlin. It is expressly calculated for the accommodation of invalids who, from age or infirmity, are unable to walk about, or of persons, under the temporary inconvenience of gout or lameness.
In the library, or on the lawn, or gravel-walk or the pleasure-ground, chairs of this kind are peculiarly useful and pleasant. They are in construction an easy reclining or arm-chair, with a foot-board, and, at the extremity of each arm, a small winch handle, easily turned by the hands of the person seated, and which, by their connection with an arrangement of wheels below, propel the chair in any required direction, or with any required velocity, at the pleasure of the operator. These operating handles are seen in the drawing at A and B.  C C are two wheels on which the chair runs, having each on its flat and outer surface a brass face wheel, worked by a smaller one (marked D) fitted on the long axis of the winch handle.
 E is a third wheel or castor, fitted to the back rail of the chair, and which forms a third point of support, and obeys the direction taken by the wheels C C.
The mode of operation is this: The party being seated, the small brass rod seen in the drawing, passing through the right-hand arm of the chair, is pulled upwards a little way to disengage the wheels, and the winch handle set to point forward as in the position represented in the drawing.
Now, if the two handles be both turned outwards the chair moves directly forward. If turned inwards it moves directly backwards. If the right-hand winch be turned outwards, the left remaining at rest, the chair turns sharply to the left, moving on its left wheel as a center; and vice versa of the left-hand winch if turned the same way, or of the right-hand one if turned inwards or the contrary way. If the two handles be turned the same way, i. e. both to the right-hand, or both to the left, at the same time, the chair will move sharply round to the right or left, having its center, or the operator himself, as its center.
The curious evolutions which may thus easily be performed in this chair render it the means of very considerable amusement, as well as of important use, to those who require its agency; but to the mechanical observer it possesses a new interest. It would not be difficult to contrive an arrangement for moving these wheels, or winch handles, by the action of a very small and portable steam-engine, and increasing the dimensions of the whole machine, and adapting to it a suitable upper structure, to render it a most curious mode of quick conveyance, without the agency of animal labour: indeed, it seems to require no great stretch of the imagination to form of the contrivance many other highly interesting machines.
A suitable construction might be hit upon to enable it to carry a small cannon, which should be, both for itself and its operators, completely unassailable by the enemy, as well as, by the singular rapidity of its evolutions, terribly and unusually destructive.
In judicious hands, the principle of the machine might possibly be advantageously used in the construction of a self-moving engine for the public conveyance of dispatches, which would have for its leading peculiarities, a rapid and certain rate of travelling, and complete inviolability as to the matters entrusted to its charge.
Of the interest and value of the contrivance in its present shape, those only can judge correctly who have experienced its singular advantages.
This drawing is furnished us by Messrs. Morgan and Sanders, of Catherine-street, Strand, whose warehouses are the grand emporium for furniture combining all the essentials of elegance and comfort.  —Ackermann's Repository October 1811

You can learn more about Merlin himself from Mike Rendell’s blog post as as well as mine at Two Nerdy History Girls. You can see another photo at the Kenwood House website here (please scroll down for the image).

Blog Exclusive: Loos of London

In the course of visiting museums and historic sites during my stay in London last summer, I visited, as you’d expect, quite a few ladies’ rooms. I’m not sure what set me off. Maybe the first one or first few were so pleasing aesthetically. At any rate, I started photographing them. Not all. In some, the space was too tight. In others, there were other occupants, and I did not want anybody emerging from a stall to find my camera pointed at her. And once or twice I forgot my camera. Still, a good representation remains.



What's a Pomatum?

January 1831 Magazine of the Beau Monde

In A Duke in Shining Armor (and in other of my books),  the term pomatum appears. If the context leads you to believe that this has something to do with styling hair,  you’ll be right.

A pomatum,  based on a grease of some kind (usually lard), was used to style hair and to keep it smoothly in place, like today’s gels, mousses, hair waxes, and sprays.

March 1831 Magazine of the Beau Monde

Some recipes call for bear grease, but it appears that other forms of grease or fat usually masqueraded as bear grease (luckily for the bears). The initial reaction of the modern mind to putting lard and/or suet in the hair is ick. But re-enactors don’t seem to find it icky, and some have become converts to the 18th and 19th century ways of caring for the hair.

May 1831 Magazine of the Beau Monde

Parisian Pomatum was one formula I came across again and again, in all kinds of books and magazines. Very often, I saw the exact same recipe in several different publications, a reminder that copyright was not protected, and publications stole freely from one another. I'm listing several recipes here, to show both variations and the extent of "borrowing."

A New Supplement to the Pharmacopoeias of London, Edinburgh, Dublin, and Paris: Forming a Complete Dispensatory and Conspectus; Including the New French Medicines and Poisons (1833).  Recipe here.

The Art of Preserving the Hair (1825).  Recipe here.

The Art of Beauty (1825). Recipe here.
The Duties of a Lady's Maid (1825).  Recipe here.

Finally, in the London Magazine (1826) you’ll find this lovely rant about the advice offered in The Duties of a Lady's Maid.

If you'd like details about how milady’s maid arranged the complicated styles of the 1820s and 1830s, you may peruse my Two Nerdy History Girls blog post on the subject.

Susan, the other Nerdy History Girl, offered this post on one of the fashionable hair accessories.

Portions of this post appeared previously at Two Nerdy History Girls, but the images did not. The images are hair styles from 1830s ladies' magazines online. Gallery first row, left to right: all from May 1833 Magazine of the Beau Monde; second row left to right: June 1833 Magazine of the Beau Monde, June 1833 World of Fashion (courtesy Los Angeles Public Library, Casey Fashion Plates collection), August 1833 Magazine of the Beau Monde



A Duke in Shining Armor Book Tour, Actual & Virtual

Me in London in June,  happily making a point of some kind at the Geffrye Museum.

As we approach the release day of A Duke in Shining Armor, you can expect to see the pace of my blog posts pick up. Among other things, I plan to offer my loyal blog subscribers exclusive material as well as some first-look (ahead of my other social media) related to this first book in my Difficult Dukes series.

Also, you’ll find me popping up in various places online in November:

At USA Today’s Happy Ever After, Cathy Maxwell and I will have a conversation about the role of strong spirits in the Regency era and the part it’s played in our recent stories.

Heroes and Heartbreakers will publish an excerpt from A Duke in Shining Armor.

RT Book Reviews will publish my short article about real 1800s dukes vs. the ones we historical romance authors create, and RT VIP Salon will include an interview.

In the first two weeks of the book’s release I’ll appear in actual person, with other actual authors. We’ll be talking about romance in general as well as our books in particular, and we’re expecting audience participation.

Loretta Chase & Caroline Linden: A Conversation
7 PM Wednesday 29 November 2017
Bacon Free Library
58 Eliot Street
Natick MA 01760

Once again I’ll join author Caroline Linden to talk about writing and reading and whatever else participants suggest. If you’ve never attended one of Caroline’s book events before, you’ve missed out. She’s funny and smart, and she gets everybody talking. You can register here (please scroll down for the registration form).

30 November 2017 Savoy Booksore & Cafe

Romance Event with authors Sarah MacLean, Maya Rodale, and Megan Frampton
7-8pm Thursday 30 November 2017
Savoy Bookstore and Café
10 Canal Street
Westerly RI 02891

6 December 2017 Strand Bookstore

Romance & Respect
—with Joanna Shupe, Tessa Bailey, Megan Frampton, Tracey Livesay
7-8pm Wednesday 6 December 2017
Strand Bookstore
828 Broadway (& 12th Street)
New York NY 10003


Auction for Romance Readers

Bacon Free Library 2017-10 Auction.jpg

The Bacon Free Library is having an auction, and what an auction!

It’s going on right now, until 29 October

Bacon Free Library Reader's lunch bag.JPG

This is my stuff here. Also at right.

But I’m not the only one. At least a kazillion other romance authors have put together some splendid swag.

Here is a fine opportunity to get books and other lovely things, and support a library at the same time. Libraries are our friends. That’s where vast numbers of us got hooked on reading, and numerous others became inspired to write our own books. Do you remember the first library book you ever read? Or the first librarian you ever talked to? Or maybe simply a time when you made a wonderful discovery, thanks to a librarian. A librarian introduced me to The Wind in the Willows, which remains one of my very favorite books.

Please stop by the site and see what’s on offer. I hope you’ll be tempted.